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Thompson Italian's pasta ingredients // Photo: Kelli Scott

New and Notable: Anju, CUT, Modena and More!

On Tap keeps locals in the know about the hottest new food and drink spots around town and the top culinary happenings of the month. Read on to get the inside scoop on what’s new and notable in the DC area.

NEW

Anju
Open: August 26
Location: Dupont Circle
Lowdown: The original Mandu has been transformed into a new restaurant from the Fried Rice Collective. It’s the second new concept from the group behind CHIKO, comprised of chef Danny Lee, chef Scott Drewno and partner Drew Kim. Anju is a contemporary Korean restaurant and pub inspired by the country’s culinary and cultural traditions, from street markets to royal court cuisine. The kitchen is overseen by executive chef Angel Barreto, who worked with Danny’s mother, chef Yesoon Lee of Mandu, to develop the menu. “Mama Lee’s Classics” like bibim bap and dak jjim, appear alongside Korean pub fare (‘anju’ refers to food eaten with alcohol) and modern creations. Start a meal with a selection of panchan, from sweet lotus root and gardenia-pickled baby radish to shredded bellflower root and house-fermented kimchi. The shareable bar snacks like the tornado potato and pan-fried pork and kimchi mandu are perfect to pair with a glass of soju or a teapot of infused makgeolli sparkling rice wine. 1805 18th St. NW, DC; www.anjurestaurant.com

CUT by Wolfgang Puck
Open: August 5
Location: Georgetown
Lowdown: Chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck debuted his second restaurant in DC – a mid-Atlantic iteration of CUT. The upscale steak restaurant has locations around the world, including Las Vegas and Doha. Puck wanted DC’s CUT to be rooted in the bounty of the region. That’s exactly what executive chef Andrew Skala has done, with a kitchen where vegetables and seafood shine just as brightly as the red meat. Skala has worked at Puck’s various restaurants for the last 13 years and he’s now building relationships with local farmers and fishermen to build his menu. It begins in the garden, with a coal-fired artichoke salad and charred leeks presented in a single translucent layer topped with Meyer lemon and toasted hazelnuts. The seafood bar offers bright ceviches, oysters and sashimi. The beef selection spans nose to tail, with steak tartare, oxtail bouillon, wagyu beef heart and beef cheek as well as the headlining cuts like dry-aged sirloin and a whopping porterhouse. The whole duck playfully is presented as tacos, with myriad toppings on a Lazy Susan. Don’t miss the chance to see a live cocktail show – old fashioneds are dispensed via a roving cocktail cart featuring various WhistlePig whiskies. 1050 31st St. NW, DC; www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/washington-dc/dining/Cut

Modena
Open: September 9
Location: Downtown
Lowdown: A decade after Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca opened downtown, restaurateur Ashok Bajaj decided to give his Italian restaurant a makeover. The space underwent a quick design refresh and extensive menu change before reopening as a brand-new concept. Modena is helmed by executive chef John Melfi, who previously served as the executive chef of Bajaj’s restaurant, The Oval Room. He’s worked with other big names in DC including Robert Wiedmaier, Fabio Trabocchi and Jeff Buben. In his current role, he aims to prove that fine dining can be fun, with unique touches like an antipasti trolley showcasing a rotating selection of salads, charcuterie and savory tarts on attractive vintage china. While much of the menu is seasonally driven by local products, the cuisine also spotlights imported ingredients from the restaurant’s namesake city, like balsamic vinegar, mortadella, prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano. House-made pastas are not to be missed, especially the potato gnocchi with water buffalo butter and shaved truffles. Adept at both savory and sweet techniques, Melfi also oversees the desserts, which are as aesthetic as they are delicious. 1100 New York Ave. NW, DC; www.modenadc.com

Thompson Italian
Open: August 14
Location: Falls Church
Lowdown: Katherine Thompson’s move to open a neighborhood restaurant in Falls Church felt like a homecoming for the pastry chef, who grew up in Arlington. She and her husband, chef Gabe Thompson, moved back to the area after working in high end kitchens and running Italian restaurants in New York. They wanted to be close to family and to create a place where refined fare and a kids’ menu weren’t mutually exclusive. Thompson Italian is just that, welcoming diners young and old to enjoy shareable small plates, seasonal salads, hearty entrées and of course, Gabe’s fresh pasta made from scratch. Adults will appreciate the ricotta gnocchi with lamb ragu or sweet corn ravioli, while pint-sized diners can mix and match their pasta shape and sauce. Katherine handles the dessert menu, which includes Italian staples like cannoli, budino and affogato. The clear favorite is the rich olive oil cake with crème fraiche mousse, raisin marmellata and maldon salt. 124 N. Washington St. Falls Church, VA; www.thompsonitalian.com

NOTABLE

New Kitchens on the Block 6
Date: October 20
Location: Mess Hall
Lowdown: It’s all about anticipation – New Kitchens on the Block is one of the most anticipated food events of the year because it offers a sneak peek at some of the most anticipated new restaurants of the year before they even open. The sixth edition boasts an impressive lineup, including Maialino Mare by restaurateur Danny Meyer and chef Rose Noel, Hi/Fi Taco by chef Nate Anda, Cranes by chef Pepe Moncayo, Tabla by Jonathan and Laura Nelms of Supra, Soko by chef Brad Feickert and restaurateur Chris Brown, Pearl’s Bagels by owners Allee and Oliver Cox and more. 703 Edgewood St. NE, DC; www.eventbrite.com

Snallygaster
Date: October 12
Location: Pennsylvania Avenue
Lowdown: Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s monstrous beer and food festival is back with a new and improved ticket model. This year, beer enthusiasts will pay one price for admission and unlimited beer and wine tastings. The event brings together more than 150 brewers pouring more than 400 craft brews on draft. In addition, there will be local food trucks, live music and more. As usual, proceeds from the event benefit the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture. On Pennsylvania Avenue between 3rd and 6th Streets in NW, DC; www.snallygasterdc.com

Unite the District
Date: October 4-5
Location: Audi Field
Lowdown: For the first time, D.C. United is hosting a food, music and arts festival. Unite the District will take place over two days, highlighting the city’s culture with local chefs, brewers, musicians and artists. Tickets include unlimited tastings from more than 20 restaurants and 10 breweries and live music by Black Alley and White Ford Bronco. The event will also have interactive art installations, cooking competitions and more. 100 Potomac Ave. SW, DC; www.unitethedistrict.com

Kevin Tien and Carlie Steiner Focus on New Culinary Concepts

As rising stars in the restaurant industry, Kevin Tien and Carlie Steiner created a supernova in late 2016. Their debut restaurant in Petworth garnered an impressive mass of accolades during just three years in business, and then suddenly, Himitsu was gone.

The ending wasn’t as dramatic as a star exploding. It was abrupt yet amicable – the best choice for all parties involved as each owner grew their own empire. Many are mourning the loss of the quirky, welcoming restaurant, but the death of Himitsu marks the birth of two even more interesting concepts.

Tien announced his new restaurant last year. Emilie’s has a much larger footprint than Himitsu, and expectations are high.

“It’s pretty ambitious, what we want to do,” he says. “It was only right to me to focus my attention all on Emilie’s or else I don’t think we would be able to open a really great restaurant.”

Though Himitsu was Tien’s first restaurant, in partnership with Steiner, it wasn’t the one he first dreamed of opening.

“When I originally wrote up the plan for a restaurant many, many years ago, Emilie’s was actually that original business concept, with a cart-style service.”

Now, he’s poised to open Emilie’s on Capitol Hill in early to mid-October. His vision for the concept is to cultivate a dining experience focused on sharing.

“Growing up, sharing meant going out to eat dim sum with my family,” he says.

Emilie’s will feature carts roving around the dining room, as well as large-format, family-style entrées with shareable sides. The menu will incorporate flavors and dishes from around the country and the world, while reflecting from the kitchen team’s backgrounds. He’s calling it new American, but not in the sense you might expect.

“Before, I think American was very steak and potatoes and roast chicken or casseroles, but I think American looks very different now,” he continues. “There’s Italian food, there’s Ethiopian food, there’s Asian cuisine. That’s what American food really is now.”

As a nod to Tien’s Louisiana upbringing, there will be a fried chicken dinner with caviar deviled eggs. His Vietnamese heritage will be represented by family-style woven noodles served with various fish sauces and grilled items. Himitsu fans won’t find Tien’s famous hamachi crudo – but he promises there will be a crudo of some sort – honoring the 12 years he spent cooking Japanese cuisine.

His kitchen management team’s influence can be seen in various aspects of the menu as well, like Davy Bourne’s house-made breads and Autumn Cline and Mikey Fabian’s seafood prowess. When Emilie’s opens, Tien wants to capture the feeling that made Himitsu special.

“A lot of the magic from Himitsu came from everyone working together as a team,” he says. “My biggest hope is that with the staff that we have here, with everyone working together on the menu and the service, we’re able to recreate some of that same magic.”

 Now the sole owner of a popular restaurant on Upshur Street, Steiner has also turned her attention to building a team.

“We are not a chef-driven restaurant,” she says. “We are a team-driven restaurant.”

She tapped chef Amanda Moll and beverage director Lauren Paylor to reopen the restaurant as a new concept: Pom Pom. In just 36 hours, they redesigned the space, adding a forest green accent wall and upholstery as well as an explosion of brightly colored pom poms.

“I hope that we can continue to make that meticulous, beautiful food,” Steiner says. “What we’ve added is a lot more whimsy.”

She says Pom Pom feels like the living room of her home – a joyful, playful space for everyone. Just as Steiner wants her guests to feel at home, she wants her staff to feel safe.

“Most of our staff actually identifies in some way as queer,” she adds. “It’s naturally become a very welcoming space for queer people.”

In the coming months, she plans to offer benefits for staff.

“Safety is probably number one and that, for me, is about protecting my employees. My employees then come back and do an incredible job protecting the guests.”

Part of that is staying true to the team mentality. Instead of championing one individual, Steiner appreciates the value in all her staff.

“What about the service members? What about the cooks? What about the dishwashers? Those are the people making this place run.”

Moll takes that literally by calling everyone chef – a habit she formed long before joining Pom Pom.

“It’s a respect thing,” she explains. “We’re all on the same level. We all are just as important in this restaurant.”

The menus at Pom Pom are similarly collaborative. Steiner, who previously oversaw the beverage program at Himitsu, now has a 50 percent influence over both the food and drink menus along with Moll and Paylor. They’ve designed the offerings so you can enjoy a refined meal to celebrate a milestone, or a burger and a beer after work. Steiner describes the food as international cuisine, or “cuisine nonconforming.”

“I will not put one cuisine on it, because a) I don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves and b) I’m not claiming to cook any classic dish at all whatsoever,” she says. “We are not claiming to do anything except put out food that we like to eat.”

There are Southeast Asian dishes, which reflect Moll’s time as a sous chef at Doi Moi, as well as Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, which is what Steiner likes to cook. Highlights include Moll’s Balinese roast duck, Steiner’s take on hamachi crudo with house-made labneh, za’atar and pomegranate seeds, and their collaborative tahdig – a crispy Peruvian green rice. This is Moll’s first executive chef role, and she has embraced the opportunity to set the tone for kitchen culture.

“I’m excited that I’m able to be in a position where I can help build up other people now, [and] just be able to have a safe environment for people to learn, feel supported, grow and test out different ideas,” Moll says.

With the new concept well underway, Steiner hopes neighbors and visitors will give Pom Pom a chance.

“I’ve always been here,” she says. “The team is amazing and I’m hoping that people are excited to get onboard this f–king happy train, because we’re just here to throw a damn good party every night and we just want you to be a part of it.”

Emilie’s: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; www.emiliesdc.com

Pom Pom: 828 Upshur St. NW, DC;  new website TBD, check www.himitsudc.com in the meantime

Photo: courtesy of Healthy Living, Inc.

DC’s Champions of Healthy Eating

DC wasn’t always a place for folks looking to eat healthy. For some living in the city, it still isn’t. For example, in Southeast DC, there is still an utter lack of grocery stores – even with the announcement of new additions earlier this year. Low-income and at-risk residents often lack the resources and education to make healthy decisions with regards to food. Add that to scarcity, and the impact – or lack thereof – of healthy food options can reverberate through the community on a multitude of levels.

That isn’t to say there aren’t nonprofits and other organizations in DC looking to either provide or educate people of all backgrounds on the values of nutrition. There is a range of places for people to learn and discover the merits of healthy eating in the nation’s capital, and for our Dine the District issue, we decided to highlight a few organizations embracing the initiative in different ways.

Healthy Living Starts with Education

When Healthy Living, Inc.’s founder and executive director Juliette Tahar arrived in the United States in the late 1960s after spending her childhood in West Africa and France, she was surprised at the meager emphasis on fresh foods found in American grocery stores.

“The biggest shock wasn’t the culture [or] the language,” Tahar says. “It was the food. I grew up with an abundance of fresh food. For me, when I came to the U.S., the options were limited. There were aisles and aisles of frozen food. Fresh produce was limited to iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. I think my interest in food started there because of this food cultural shock. I wanted to reconnect to what I knew as a child.”

After years spent cooking, catering and educating on the merits of macrobiotics in food, Tahar founded Healthy Living in 2003 with a mission to create programs built around nutrition education and healthy cooking. Whether it be hands-on demos or simple Q&A opportunities for eager learners, Tahar and youth program manager Mark Weinberger have been able to utilize their culinary backgrounds to help DC’s less privileged.

“The education aspect is the strong foundation we apply that is useful for all people,” Weinberger says. “The knowledge is basic, and people get culinary skills and knowledge of why they’re eating what they’re eating. We implement after school programs and summer programs for younger participants so they can learn to be aware of what’s growing in the region seasonally. You have to get people engaged.”

Though the programs are largely based on plant-based foods, Weinberger says they make an effort to keep it simple with items people can find at chain grocery stores and even some corner stores. With the understanding that not everyone can purchase organic foods, the point of emphasis is often on preparation.

“Yesterday, I taught at an organization that works with young families to show what you can accomplish on a budget,” Tahar says. “We want to get families cooking together. We want them to own the cooking. We want to empower people because when you cook for yourself, you’re in charge.”

Weinberger makes it a point to differentiate from the misnomer that having a healthy diet requires people to become vegan or vegetarian. Healthy Living does not advocate any one way of eating, he says. Because of the varied backgrounds of the DC residents they serve, their programs focus on diets that work for individuals and their families.

“The approach is more about education and helping them figure out what works best for them,” Weinberger says. “We want people to understand and make the best choices for themselves.”

Part of understanding a topic is asking the right questions, and Tahar has noticed a hunger for knowledge from people who have participated in their programs.

“People come with questions and ask my opinion,” Tahar says. “People do listen and want to be in the programs and learn. Change doesn’t happen all of a sudden. It’s about being totally inclusive and inviting people to explore their relationship with what they eat. It’s building consciousness and awareness. It takes a long time. We build relationships with partners in the long term.”

For more information about Healthy Living, Inc., visit www.healthyliving.org.

Bread for the City Makes Impact with Farmers Market

Farmers markets are often associated with affluence – people casually strolling in a downtown location sifting through various vegetables and an assortment of artisanal products, most often with a backdrop of music. However, Bread for the City operates two free farmers markets on a monthly basis, offering a different way for people to get nutritious goods.

“There are usually about 200 people present at the sessions, and they’re able to get fruits, vegetables and other staples that people need,” says Sonya Springfield, Bread for the City’s volunteer and in-kind manager.

Springfield views the need for more healthy options among DC residents as fairly straightforward, pointing out an extremely simplified cause and effect that has to be addressed.

“It’s pretty uncomplicated,” she continues. “Poverty leads to food insecurity and that leads to poor nutrition, and that then leads to all sorts of consequences for people’s health. Poverty in DC is higher among black residents. When individuals have low income, they usually buy foods that are really cheap. In the cases of Ward 7 and 8, there aren’t many grocery stores. Fifty percent of the city’s youth live in those wards, so a lack of access is having a big impact.”

That’s where Bread for the City’s programs come in, including the aforementioned farmers markets as well as food pantries that provide healthy options to people near or below the federal poverty line. According to the website, Bread for the City serves more than 8,400 people per month through their food programs.

“People can get the amount of food needed dependent on their household size,” Springfield says. “People are happy to have access to fresh foods and vegetables.”

While Bread for the City provides what it can to the underserved of DC, Springfield mentions how the scarcity of viable grocery stores and price of vegetables at higher-end locations can be a deterrent for the people who use the organizations pantries and farmers markets. While education plays a big part in helping shape people’s eating habits, access and affordability are just as important to the cause.

“People want to eat well and be healthy, but survival comes before health, and survival has to take a lot of different things into consideration,” Springfield says. “When people with limited funds are deciding what to trade off on a particular month to make everything fit, expensive food just doesn’t make the cut when there’s a cheap option that will also keep them alive for the time being. We can take a bunch of grapes to the counter and they’ll cost about $12. When you compare that to a $2 bag of chips, it’s easy to see why some parents are forced to give their children the less healthy option to snack on.”

For more information about Bread for the City, visit www.breadforthecity.org.

Miriam’s Kitchen Shows and Tells

For Miriam’s Kitchen Executive Chef Cheryl Bell, a large component of educating people about nutrition is by showing them how it can taste.

“We have to get very creative about how we’re making healthy alternatives for foods that people like,” Bell says. “You’re never going to have fried chicken here, but we’ll do baked chicken. We’ll do oven-baked steak fries. We try to elevate everything from a taste perspective. We want foods to nourish you, not harm you.”

Miriam’s Kitchen was founded in 1983 when the Western Presbyterian Church, Unity Church and the George Washington University Hillel banded together to serve meals to their neighbors. Shortly after, the organization added case management and a therapeutic art program. Now the nonprofit partners with hundreds of corporations and faith communities to end chronic homelessness. This includes a housing program, advocacy program and several others.

“I don’t want someone to get housing and then die a year later because they were unhealthy,” Bell says. “That’s my goal: to help people understand. We often see people who have struggled to get off the streets then get housing, only for them to die because of health [reasons]. It happens.”

One key component separating Miriam’s from other shelters or soup kitchens is Bell’s ability to showcase healthy options of familiar dishes. For instance, Bell mentions that the kitchen cooks recognizable things like lasagna or cheeseburgers but uses all-natural ingredients. She concedes that in the past, kitchens for the malnourished were more focused on quantity over quality. But in her own kitchen, this has shifted dramatically.

“I have a responsibility as a chef to serve and take care of people, and that means I have to think about all the ways I can do that,” Bell says. “We work with guests to educate them so they can be aware when they go somewhere else and know what they can and can’t have. It’s not about providing meals. It’s about providing people with a better quality of life.”

For more information about Miriam’s Kitchen, visit www.miriamskitchen.org.

Broccoli City Puts Emphasis on Educating Festivalgoers

Renowned for its ability to draw large musical acts and talented artists to the DC area, the annual Broccoli City Festival has also provided opportunities for food education in a place you’d otherwise not expect to find it. Though nutrition and hip-hop seem like an odd combination, cofounder Brandon McEachern says it’s actually pretty organic.

“It’s all important – that’s why we do it,” McEachern says. “We just try to touch them. You think it’s a hip-hop concert, but you leave with a bag of fresh vegetables. That’s the kind of vendors we have. You leave with stuff that you really needed. [That’s the] basis of Broccoli City. It’s community over competition. The message and the mission is love and community and giving back. Get your hands dirty. It’s an organic thing.”

McEachern says part of what spurred the idea was his time spent in California as a production assistant, where he worked in Santa Monica but got haircuts in South Central. He describes the difference as obvious, and it inspired an idea to promote health-conscious foods through means that would allow people to keep their “swag.”

“I looked at the differences between the neighborhoods. In South Central, there’s liquor store, liquor store, McDonald’s. When I saw that, I wanted to create a festival where you can feel healthy and still be on some swag sh-t. Broccoli represents fresh, and City represents the rawness of urban.”

Broccoli City also promotes health awareness at the Shaw-based Broccoli City Bar, including events hosted by #DontMuteMyHealth, a local grassroots movement in DC to reclaim community health from outside influences and interests. The festival itself also hosts a number of events focused on health-related activities including a 5K, a conference and several panel discussions.

“Man, they show it love,” McEachern says. “We’re an option. You have to present it. It’s a consistent way to deliver the message. Keep coming back, keep trying to educate.”

Broccoli City’s next endeavor is Food and Grooves at Union Market’s Dock5 on October 26 with appearances from Questlove, Chef Kwame Onwuachi of Kith/Kin and a score of other culinary and musical talent. Though the focus isn’t inherently on health or nutrition, McEachern assures that Broccoli City’s mission will be felt at the festival.

Learn more about Broccoli City Festival at www.bcfestival.com.

Broccoli City Bar: 1817 7th St. NW, DC; www.broccoli.bar

Food and Grooves at Dock5:
1309 5th St. NE, DC; https://foodandgroovesdc.frontgatetickets.com

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Bread for the City’s food programs served 8,400 people without the phrase “per month,” which was an error. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Sonya Springfield’s title and said she was a volunteer. Her title is Volunteer and In-Kind Manager. 

RASA dishes // Photo: Rey Lopez

DC’s Fine Fast Casual Scene

Fast-casual food is hot and shows no signs of slowing down. Since the explosion of the fast-casual segment, DC diners have started expecting even more from these quick options – and restaurants have delivered. They are incorporating creative bites, hanging menus, well-plated dishes, interesting décor and extensive beverage services into the casual dining experience. This new niche, referred to as elevated fast casual or fine fast casual, combines the familiar elements of fast casual with aspects of fine dining. In DC, we have plenty of choices when it comes to fine fast casual, with diverse cuisines at modest price points. Here’s what seven local spots, each truly highlighting the best in the fine fast casual space, have to say about the trend.

RASA

This Indian restaurant has cemented its spot in DC’s fine fast-casual market with its innovative and accessible flavors. It continues to make waves in the space with upcoming new locations and celebrity endorsements.

According to Sahil Rahman, co-owner of RASA, “Fine fast casuals are continuing to innovate and push the market forward. The big trends we are seeing today include the promotion of unique ingredients, elevated interior design and an increase in healthful offerings.”

All of these are at the forefront of RASA’s brand. Rahman believes this is the fastest-growing market segment because it solves multiple consumer needs at once.

“The brilliance of the model is that it maintains the quick service while also offering guests the opportunity to eat delicious and nutritious meals, all at an affordable price point.”

1247 First St. SE, DC; www.rasagrill.com

CHAIA

Co-owners Bettina Stern and Suzanne Simon have been ahead of the curve not just on the fine fast casual trend, but also on the plant-forward movement. What started off as a market stand now has two storefront locations in DC featuring vegetarian tacos with local, seasonal vegetables served in homemade tortillas to diners.

“Fast casual is the perfect fit for serving best-quality, fresh, delicious, local, seasonal vegetables to everyone,” Stern says. “It is convenient, easy and affordable.”

Indeed, this is what makes them appealing to diners. Interest in the fine fast casual and quick-service side of the restaurant industry is only growing.

As Stern puts it: “It appears that deliciousness is at the intersection of health, sustainability, cultural discovery and business insight.”

3207 Grace St. and 615 I St. in NW, DC; www.chaiatacos.com

SHOUK

Plant-based options are one of the fastest-growing segments in the food industry, and the Israeli-focused Shouk caters to this with delicious hummus bowls, salads and sandwiches.

Ran Nussbacher and Dennis Friedman of Shouk say that, “In the past, when people wanted to grab a quick bite, the majority of their options were highly-processed, sugary foods with unknown ingredients.”

By offering highly craveable, nutritious options at modest prices, Shouk has truly managed to win locals’ stomachs – the eggplant burger is one of the best vegetarian sandwich options around.

655 K St. NW, DC and 395 Morse St. NE, DC; www.shouk.com

Beefsteak

Big name chefs are keen to be part of the movement, too. José Andrés’ Beefsteak is a plant-based concept that has proven popular. Getting creative with using plant-based ingredients remains ever important to keep diners interested. Eric Martino, COO of ThinkFoodGroup, also sees another direction for some companies as ghost kitchens become more of a trend.

“As third-party deliveries continue to increase in metro markets, I could see multi-concept units doing delivery only out of kitchen-only spaces,” Martino says. “Engaging with guests digitally through apps and online strategies are no longer a “nice to have” but more of a necessity.

1528 Connecticut Ave. and on GWU’s campus at 800 22nd St. in NW, DC; www.beefsteakveggies.com

Stellina Pizzeria

Antonio Matarazzo, co-owner of Stellina Pizzeria, agrees that “the growing interest in fast-casual dining has led to more well-known chefs opening concepts in this space and service style.”

“That translates into greater quality and care of the food served in fast-casual restaurants,” he says.

At Stellina, the counter service model has been received positively as diners become familiar with the idea that a space could be causal in terms of service but with a menu, quality and prices closer to traditional restaurants.

According to Matarazzo, “Cutting out some steps in the service allows us to deliver amazing dishes at great value.”

We agree – the food speaks for itself.

399 Morse St. NE, DC; www.stellinapizzeria.com

Bandoola Bowl

Aung Myint, owner of the Burmese salad shop, says that “guests are trying to get in and get out, and don’t have time to make myriad decisions.”

By having a selection of composed bowls with ingredients and flavors that work together, the guesswork is eliminated for the diner. This also leads to consistency – a big advantage.

“If you find something you love, you know what you’re going to get upon each visit,” Myint says.

And you will find something you love.

1069 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; www.bandoolabowl.com

Poke Papa

At Poke Papa, value and convenience are the focus. When it comes to fresh raw fish, there is no compromise. Food is consistently prepared throughout the day so they can serve guests meals in relatively quick time frames while still maintaining a high quality.

From “the start of our ordering process to finishing payment, it’s right around two minutes on average,” owner Kerry Chao says.

Health-conscious diners are seeking fresh options that aren’t heavily processed, and that’s exactly what Poke Papa offers.

806 H St. NW, DC; www.pokepapa.com

Photos: Scott Suchman

Kwame Onwuachi Continues to Cook Life Story

Just a few weeks after national media outlets broke the news that Kwame Onwuachi’s memoir Notes from a Young Black Chef would become the basis for an A24-produced film adaptation starring Lakeith Stanfield, I sat down with the chef at Kith/Kin.

We chatted in a private dining room tucked away in a back corner of his award-winning restaurant, located inside The Wharf’s InterContinental Hotel, on an afternoon in late July. He looked completely at ease as one of DC’s most notable photographers, Scott Suchman, snapped pictures of him sitting in an Eames-esque green leather chair. It was one of the few times I’d seen the chef without his prominent Malcom X hat. But the iconic X was still present, freshly tattooed in black on his left wrist, the same color as his painted nails.

If you haven’t heard of Onwuachi yet, perhaps the most accurate one-line description is: the hottest chef in DC. The 29-year-old is a phoenix, rising from the proverbial ashes after his first restaurant Shaw Bijou quickly shuttered in 2016, to become a New York Times best-selling author, Forbes 30-under-30 honoree, and a RAMMY and James Beard Award winner all in the span of about six months.

“It’s kind of like exploring a new facet of what this restaurant industry has to offer,” Onwuachi elaborated, leaning slightly forward. “When you talk about your story, you never think of yourself as interesting. I mean, there are certain people who view themselves as extremely interesting, but for the average person, you don’t know how someone is going to react to your story. To see how [mine] has been embraced by the world, I couldn’t have imagined it.”

Onwuachi’s story has always held the intrigue of diners and viewers alike, from Shaw Bijou menu items reminiscent of dishes from his childhood like fish pies and Butterfingers to his well-received appearances on Top Chef. It made sense to turn his background into a book: the tale of a young man who was in a gang and sold drugs before graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and opening a restaurant in the nation’s capital – all before the age of 30.

The published memoir ends before the story of his successes at Kith/Kin and fast-casual spot Philly Wing Fry reach the pages, but the ongoing narrative has played out in the various 2019 press coverage singing his praises. These accolades have led him to travel the globe – from Mexico to Chicago to Africa – to cook and appear at events and conferences, take calls with Issa Rae, and DM Ava DuVernay. And yet, he’s still perpetually in the kitchen.

“I definitely have days where I feel as if nothing is going right,” Onwuachi said. “Despite all these things happening, I’m still doing something I love. I’m still doing something I believe in. I’m still just cooking. I have this other side of my life now, which is very open, raw [and] vivid, that other people feel very connected to and are inspired by, which is a really cool feeling.”

An Open Book

Onwuachi’s memoir, released this spring, is described as “an intersection of race, fame and food.” The book begins and ends with the chef’s thoughts on his-then most recent project Shaw Bijou: the excitement, jubilation and exhaustion he felt before its opening and the utter disappointment that followed its closing – and the accompanying negative murmurs from the public. However, the chapters in between reveal more than his thoughts on culinary life.

“I don’t think it’s ever easy doing a new thing you’re not familiar with – a new medium. I have been exploring this for awhile, telling my story. But there are certain parts that aren’t glorious, ones you don’t share with people. You tuck it somewhere where you don’t have to talk about it ever again. This book is not for just young chefs. This book is not just for young black chefs. It’s not just for black people. It’s not just for people in the culinary industry. It’s for everyone.”

The writing process forced Onwuachi to divulge details he’d previously hidden. He talked to his family and friends to recreate scenes. He penned detailed accounts of his times as a 10-year-old in Nigeria fetching water and raising livestock, and the days he sold candy to passengers on the subways. Readers connected to these stories. He tells me he gets about five letters per day, often thanking him for being vulnerable. His mother, who ran a catering company while raising him in the Bronx, cried upon first read – and so did he.

“It brought back moments she was trying to forget. My grandmother was finding out things she never knew about me and crying for other reasons. Close family friends that didn’t really know my life story, how I got to where I am – it was eye-opening for them. It was different based on the person. I was crying when I first held the book in my hands. It felt really powerful. There was a weight to it. I didn’t know what the rest of the world would think [of] my story. I’m living it.”

Afro-Caribbean + Cheesesteaks

When Shaw Bijou closed after two short months, Onwuachi took the brunt of the blows. Criticism ranged from the price of the food to his lack of experience. Despite the headlines and hot takes, he said the restaurant worked. If it had more capital to survive the opening stages, he said it would have survived and thrived in DC’s market.

“It was money. That’s why restaurants close. We had plenty of people come to the restaurant. It was just that the investors didn’t have the capital they said they had. They didn’t have enough to get through the tough times, which is the beginning. I didn’t ask the right questions. I was young and excited. I was coming from a line cook position. I was excited to have a new life.”

Ten months later in October 2018, Onwuachi opened Kith/Kin as its executive chef. At first, he attempted to once more use his story as a foundation for his menu. Shortly after, however, he shifted the spotlight. He began to focus on emphasizing a vision built on Afro-Caribbean roots, inspired by his family’s history and an extensive amount of research.

Another impetus for change was his need to grow. When the restaurant was in its infancy, he labored long hours – from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. – overextending himself and his creativity. He suffered a car accident because of exhaustion. Frankly, it wasn’t working.

“I looked in the mirror. There was too much money being spent on labor costs or things the guests didn’t realize. I had to make it less about me and more about the environment and my team. I was so hands-on, and it wasn’t working for anyone. I wasn’t the best version of myself and my food wasn’t the best version of itself. I needed to change so we could grow and become the restaurant I knew we were capable of becoming. I think trying to take from other models just didn’t work. It was tough, because I had to peel back the layers of my own cooking so that it would make sense.”

The restaurant’s high quality has helped land the chef both James Beard and RAMMY Awards this year, as well as other culinary accolades. And Kith/Kin isn’t the only thriving restaurant under his purview either, as Union Market’s Philly Wing Fry quickly became a favorite for locals. The little eatery specializes in the three words forming its title – cheesesteaks, chicken wings and waffle fries – plus other treats like fried Brussels sprouts. As of this summer, it’s even serving up egg-and-cheese sandwiches for breakfast on the weekends.

“I just thought, ‘Why isn’t there a place where I can get a cheesesteak, chicken and waffle fries in one spot?’ so I was like, ‘I’m going to make it.’  We had aged beef from Shaw Bijou, and we needed to [use it]. I think [these are staples] every American knows, and I thought it was a really good idea.”

Taking A Lap

From creative menus to a movie in the making, most of Onwuachi’s recent ideas have proven to be excellent. But if his book and the Shaw Bijou experiment are any indication, life ebbs and flows. When you’re flying highest is when you’re suddenly grounded. Onwuachi acknowledged some pressure in juggling his numerous projects, but he handles it all with a calmness.

“It keeps me going. I think I have a responsibility because I’m out there now. I have to. I felt it when I did Shaw Bijou. That’s why I didn’t want to close so bad. Being some of the first to do things, it’s tough. It’s a double-edged sword. But at the end of the day, I have to make sure I’m setting a great example for the rest of the people that want to do it so when they see me and they look like me, they know they can attain it.”

That’s how he felt when he saw President Obama walk across the stage during his election win in 2008. Though he’s not planning to walk across that stage anytime soon, you can often see Onwuachi taking a walk of his own at Kith/Kin – clad in his chef coat, bouncing from table to table, checking on his guests.

“People are finally able to celebrate their culture while celebrating a special experience. It’s why I do it. When it gets tough, I can take a lap around the dining room and see a rainbow of faces with food in their hands.”

Catch Onwuachi’s interview with Questlove at the Food & Grooves Festival at Union Market’s Dock5 on October 26 or at Miracle Theatre on November 1 with “The Sporkful Podcast.” Follow him on Twitter @chefkwame and on Instagram @chefkwameonwuachi.

Kith/Kin: 801 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.kithandkindc.com

Philly Wing Fry: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.phillywingfry.com

The Hangover Special // Photo: courtesy of Succotash

5 Go-To Dishes to Cure the Ultimate Hangover

Waking up after a late night of drinking can feel like a game of roulette. Maybe you’ll hop out of bed feeling none the worse for wear, or maybe, your head will be heavy as an anvil with a churning stomach and strong desire to do nothing but take it easy until your body can get itself in order. Hangovers often lead to cravings for foods loaded with carbs, grease and fat that can soak up the alcohol from the night before and fuel the next day. A bit of sweat-inducing spice never hurt, either. These five dishes were chef-built to help ease the pain and replenish the soul with a heavy dose of all things comforting.

Taco Bamba’s Hangover Torta

Tacos are understandably the main draw at this local taqueria chain from chef Victor Albisu. But if a thumping headache has you craving something a bit greasier, grab the Hangover Torta at Taco Bamba’s Fairfax location.

“I don’t get many hangovers these days, but when I do, I’m on the lookout for eggs and potatoes, salt and spice, and a little bit of fat,” Albisu says.

His sandwich was designed to hit all the right notes, from bacon carnitas and avocado to fried eggs and beans.

10629 Braddock Rd. Fairfax, VA; www.tacobamba.com

The Smith’s Breakfast Pot Pie

This New York City export has comfort food for all times of day. If you can’t decide what your hangover requires, go for The Smith’s Breakfast Pot Pie available at both DC locations – Penn Quarter and U Street. The skillet is loaded with bacon, sweet Italian-style sausage, a homemade cheddar biscuit crust and two runny eggs.

“For me, it’s all the best parts of biscuits and gravy packed into a pot pie vessel,” says Michael Kollarik, The Smith’s culinary development chef. “It helps jumpstart your afternoon.”

901 F St. and 1314 U St. in NW, DC; http://thesmithrestaurant.com

Succotash’s Hangover Special

Chef Edward Lee’s Penn Quarter restaurant blurs the line between Korean and Southern American cuisines – a recipe for spicy, fatty, wholesome cooking to turn around the groggiest of mornings. Lee says that his aptly named Hangover Special has all of those elements in one cast iron skillet: spicy pulled pork, potato salad, fried eggs and gravy with a biscuit.

“The Hangover Special is combination of everything you need to get your day started,” Lee says. “Together, they are fuel for your body and joy for your soul.”

915 F St. NW, DC; www.succotashrestaurant.com

Bar Deco’s Hangover Sandwich

A breakfast sandwich can be a hangover savior, especially when it’s packed with eggs and salty, fatty bacon and sausage. Look no further than Chinatown spot Bar Deco’s Hangover Sandwich and its spin on the classic. The one here is loaded with scrambled eggs, short ribs, white cheddar cheese and more between two buttery brioche buns. A spicy jalapeño bacon mayonnaise gives it an extra spicy kick.

“The Hangover Sandwich is the perfect amount of sodium and fat between a buttery bun,” says Bar Deco Bar Manager Luke Lamb. “It’s exactly what your body is craving when your body is hungover: salt to help you retain water and that fat to keep you going.”

717 6th St. NW, DC; www.bardecodc.com

Matchbox’s Brunch Pizza

Matchbox restaurants are much more than pizza these days, but the thin-crust brunch pie is still one of the best ways to soak up the pain of a long night on the town. Spicy Italian sausage brings the heat, tempered by fresh pico de gallo, smoky gouda cheese and scrambled eggs. It’s part of the many carb-heavy options on the restaurant’s bottomless brunch menu.

“The Brunch Pizza has been a popular favorite on the Matchbox menu for years now,” says chef Jim Drost, who’s also director of culinary operations. “Even when we’ve tried different versions [and] began a brunch program without the Brunch Pizza, we’ve had to bring it back by popular demand.”

Four Virginia locations, two in Maryland (and a third opening in Bethesda), and three in DC; www.matchboxrestaurants.com

Paul Gonzalez, Lauren Paylor, Deke Dunne // Photos: M.K. Koszycki

Behind the Bar: Honoring the Past and Future of Black Bartenders at Allegory

How do you honor a legacy that has all but been forgotten by a collective consciousness? It’s an almost impossible question, but the team at Allegory – Eaton Workshop’s literary-themed cocktail bar – is answering it in a way that’s interactive, educational and engaging.

Presented in conjunction with multidisciplinary artist Khalil Joseph’s “BLKNWS” exhibit, which opened at Eaton last month and runs through December, Allegory’s head bartender Paul Gonzalez and his team set out to commemorate the legacy of black bartenders who paved the way for the beverage industry.

To do this, the Allegory team called upon prominent black bartenders in the community to craft and submit drinks of their choosing to this special menu. They’ve also included drinks made by bartenders of yesteryear who previously have not received the acclaim owed to them – pioneers like Cato Alexander and John Dabney, to name a few, make appearances.

One such modern bartender making a contribution to the menu is Lauren Paylor, bar director at cocktail bar Dos Mamis and beverage director at restaurant Pom Pom, both newly opened in Petworth. Though the Bronx native came to DC to study nursing at the Catholic University of America, she was quickly embraced by the city’s tightknit and talented hospitality world where she found a community to grow and create with.

When Allegory manager and bartender Deke Dunne and Gonzalez approached her to be part of this experience that she describes as a transition and continuation of the “BLKNWS” exhibit, she was all in. Paylor contributed a drink called the Loco Bananas: a sweet, smoky, banana-infused whiskey and rum-based cocktail.

Loco Bananas

“Seeing this turn in the DC community specifically with celebrating all aspects of history as far as cocktails are concerned is really nice,” Paylor says. “There are so many pieces that are often left out. They’re pertinent, they’re important and they have great significance. I was head over heels to be able to be part of this.”

Gonzalez explains that while his time at other bars in historic stretches of DC piqued his curiosity and appreciation for untold sides of the city’s hospitality history, “BLKNWS” provided Allegory with a platform to dive even deeper and make these bartenders’ stories heard and appreciated in tandem with the impactful message of the art.

“Deke and I used to work at The Gibson, and we thought it was fascinating how 14th and U is such a historic corner,” Gonzalez says. “Most of the people who live in the city now or that just go up and down that block know nothing about Black Broadway or all these amazing clubs. There’s a rich history that’s on that one strip from 7th to 14th Streets [in the U Street Corridor]. We took that as the starting point and started doing a little more research.”

To capture the history of black bartenders in the city, Gonzalez and Dunne dove in and found fascinating and necessary stories of entrepreneurs who did much more than just make a great cocktail in an era where the world was outwardly aiming to oppress them.

“The further we researched, the more we dug into finding all of these historic bartenders, and the greater the story [became],” Gonzalez continues. “These people literally started off as slaves and then by the time it was done, they weren’t just free. They owned businesses. One of them put his son through medical school. These are just stories that people need to know. You don’t call yourself a professional if you only care about the pretty side of history.”

The team found that some of the most important voices in this era were often excluded. Dunne notes that they are lucky to know the limited information that was available to them through their research.

“Cato Alexander was one of the forefathers of the cocktail scene back in the 1830s, and there’s little to nothing [available] about him,” Dunne says. “There are all these famous characters that were some of the best bartenders in the world that were black and had vertical growth in society, and nobody was talking about them.”

Alexander is just one of the talents the Allegory team sheds light on. As a modern black bartender, Paylor is happy to have the opportunity to make history known to those who come through to enjoy the menu.

“There is so much I’m learning now about the significance of black people and people of color in history – specifically in DC – and the broader spectrum of America,” she says. “There’s still so much we don’t know and there’s a little frustration that comes with that, but we’re doing our part to ensure that moving forward, we can continue the conversation and hope that this history doesn’t repeat itself. All people deserve to be celebrated for the impact that they’ve made on this industry, whether it was past or present.”

Experience “BLKNWS” and Allegory’s accompanying cocktail menu through the end of December.

For more on Lauren Paylor and Dos Mamis, visit www.dosmamisdc.com and follow her on Instagram @lpdrinksdc. Learn more about Allegory at www.allegory-dc.com.

Allegory at Eaton Workshop: 1201 K St. NW, DC; www.allegory-dc.com

Photo: Nick Donner

Confessions of Traveling Snack Slingers

What happens at the food truck rodeo doesn’t always stay at the food truck rodeo. We caught up with food truckers around the region to hear about the highs and lows of cooking on the road.

Captain Cookie & the Milkman

On Tap: What is the craziest event you’ve ever taken your truck to?
Founder // co-owner Kirk Francis: That would be The Festicle, which was a testicle-cooking festival held at the Bullpen. There were numerous testicle-cooking competitions, a team who did WWE-style wrestling and pole dancers. A close second was the Flugtag by Red Bull, where we saw various teams compete to push their homemade flying objects on hilariously unsuccessful launches. There was a lot of smashing and a tiny bit of flying.

OT: Most surprising order?
KF: We make cookie cakes, and over the years we’ve been asked to make some highly inappropriate cookie cakes for bachelorette parties. We also made and delivered a cookie cake once that simply said, “F—k you.” I hope it was a joke.

OT: What’s your favorite snack to enjoy after Captain Cookie calls it a day?
KF: Kimchi with rice and a fried egg. I ferment my own so there’s always a jar handy. It’s salty, sour and spicy, but still pretty healthy.

www.captaincookiedc.com

Photo: courtesy of CapMac

CapMac

On Tap: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever made for a customer?
Owner Josh Warner: The craziest order would probably be catering. They wanted to get fancy, and they wanted six courses and a plated dinner for four hours. Zero mac and cheese at all.

OT: What’s one thing most people don’t realize about owning a food truck?
JW: You think we’re only open for two hours, but we make everything from scratch so it’s a full day. It’s so much more if you do it right, and we do it right. We love people more than we love food.

www.capmacdc.com

Photo: courtesy of Rebel Taco

Rebel Taco

On Tap: What’s one aspect of owning a food truck most folks don’t realize?
Owner Mike Bramson: It gets hot inside the truck! If you’re feeling hot, imagine 10 degrees warmer – at least. Whoever is serving you on a warm day, just give them a “thank you.”

OT: What Rebel Taco dish do you crave post-shift?
MB: I’m normally craving the taco that I saw go out the most that day. It’s usually either the Super Chick (chipotle-marinated chicken, avocado crema and pico de gallo on a flour tortilla), steak quesadilla or the Shrimp Gone Wild (cornflake-battered shrimp, slaw and Rebel sauce).

OT: Name the food order that made you raise an eyebrow.
MB: One time, we had an order of 16 tacos from one person. I figured he was taking it to a group, but it was just him and his friend. I guess they must really like our tacos.

www.rebeltacova.com

Photo: courtesy of Swizzler

Swizzler

On Tap: What’s the oddest food order you’ve received?
Founder Jesse Konig: The weirdest thing that I’ve seen get ordered is asking for two hot dogs in one bun. I think people see the spiral-cut hot dogs and think they should be able to fuse together and make a super-sized hot dog. I respect the creative thinking, but it just doesn’t quite work out the way you think it would. Please, don’t order it.

OT: What’s your go-to Swizzler snack after a long day?
JK: I’ve been on a big burger kick recently so I’d have to say my number one choice would be a Swizz Stack fresh off the grill, maybe even with some caramelized onions and candied jalapeños added on top if I’m feeling crazy! After a long day working on the truck, that thing will disappear in 30 seconds flat. If we’re talking hot dogs, it would have to be a Feast Mode. Just thinking about it is making me hungry!

www.swizzlerfoods.com

Photo: courtesy of Pepe

Pepe by José Andrés

On Tap: After a long day with Pepe, what do you eat standing over the kitchen sink?
Chef Aaron Helfand: Spanish pulled pork with shredded cabbage slaw, hold the bread.

OT: What’s the weirdest thing someone’s asked you to make?
AH: Being a small workspace, we only have so many options to alter something. But guests come up with all sorts of interesting tweaks, whether it’s adding jamón to everything or adding croquetas to the inside of a bocata.

OT: What’s the one thing you can’t do without on your truck?
AH: This depends on where we are in the DMV area. It is interesting how guests at each location crave different items from our menu. We try to bring as much as possible so everyone can enjoy, but we can never be without jamón.

www.joseandrescatering.com

Photo: courtesy of Puddin’

A Day in the Life with Puddin’ Food Truck Owner Toyin Alli

Toyin Alli, founder of DC’s beloved soul food staple Puddin’, knows what people like: great ingredients, comforting flavors and a second to experience bliss in the middle of a busy day. Cooking is a thread that runs through her entire life, first as a way to bond with family, then as a hobby and ultimately as a calling. DMV residents gravitate toward Alli’s warmth and the sense of fun she brings to food. With two food trucks, a Union Market stall and a spot at Eastern Market’s Saturday farmers market, Puddin’s growth has tracked right alongside the District’s food truck scene. We caught up with her to learn more about where she’s been and where she’s headed next.

On Tap: What drew you to cooking?
Toyin Alli: I come from a family of people who love cooking. My dad is Nigerian and my mom is African American, so they’re always trying to merge those two things in the kitchen. I gravitated toward Cajun and Creole food because they have the influence of West African cuisines, French, Native Americans – it feels like the most American food there is. I ended up using a lot of West African ingredients and when I went to Louisiana [to research], I saw so much stuff that my dad was using, like okra. It felt like food that was very familiar to me.

OT: How did Puddin’ come to be? How did you pick the name?
TA: I started in 2005 just doing all different kinds of puddings – bread pudding, mousse, panna cotta – literally any kind of pudding I could think of. But it didn’t really take. People just started calling me Puddin’ and it stuck. It’s also a common Southern nickname. People come up to the truck all the time and say, “That’s MY nickname!” I started again after I graduated from grad school [in 2010]: gumbo, shrimp and grits, banana pudding. This wasn’t an overly thought-out business idea. It came from a love of cooking and it was a thing I did on the weekend. I was working a full-time job and I was rushing around getting ingredients. I quit my job about six months after I started the business. It was scary, but it ended up paying off. I was able to incrementally build my business by starting in the Eastern Market farmers market.

OT: Now you’re at Eastern Market and in Union Market, and you’ve got the food truck. How does your clientele differ at each location?
TA: We have die-hard Eastern Market people who come every weekend for our po’boys because I put a twist on it. It’s still traditional with big fried shrimp, but we put our remoulade and a vinegar-based slaw on them. We use local Rappahannock oysters and wild blue catfish, which is different too. They’re an invasive species and they’re not bottom feeders so they don’t have that muddy taste, plus getting them out of the water helps the ecosystem. Union Market is changing. We have people who come because they support me as a black-owned, female-owned business. The new market people are trendy millennials, tourists – and they’re having a different experience. It’s all cool. It’s all great.

OT: What’s your bestseller? Why do you think that is?
TA: The bread pudding is always a hit. It’s an old-timey dessert you either love or hate. What’s fun for me is taking one of those old-school desserts and turning it into something people really enjoy. Getting people to try it is a challenge. “That’s wet bread! Who wants wet bread? I don’t!” But ours is no nuts, no raisins, no cinnamon, and who doesn’t love butter and bread with sugar and bourbon? Rather than try to overcomplicate it, I made something simple – and people love it.

OT: What does comfort food mean to you?
TA: When I think of comfort food, I think of anything that makes my body tingle [while I’m eating it]. It’s so good, I’d rather be doing that than any number of things that also make me feel good. Comfort food to me is, you need this not only for nourishment, but to feed your soul. I know you can’t indulge every day, but sometimes you just need some fried shrimp, you need some gumbo. Ultimately, if it feels like home.

OT: What’s next for Puddin’?
TA: I’m working on Puddin’s Community Kitchen. We’re hoping to open in November. I purchased warehouse space in Capitol Heights, Maryland, right outside DC. It’ll be an incubator space and a commercial kitchen, but also a community space for cooking classes and whatever else the community needs. I’m trying to create a space that can be used to fill that gap. Additionally, there’s going to be a carry-out space so people in that community can buy Puddin’ food without coming into the city.

 Learn more about Puddin’ and where to find Alli’s food trucks at www.dcpuddin.com or on Instagram @dcpuddin.

Monday through Sunday at Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.unionmarketdc.com

Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Eastern Market: 635 North Caroline Ave. SE, DC; www.easternmarket-dc.org

"Lucid Motion" by Rhizomatiks // Photo: courtesy of ARTECHOUSE

ARTECHOUSE Provides View of Art’s Future

Walking into the Lucid Motion exhibit at ARTECHOUSE, I felt like I had stepped into a video game. The main room featured three floor-length screens that projected a video of images showing movement and lights that reflected onto the black floor. The multi-colored bars bounced on the walls in time with each piano note, a futuristic figure danced, drawing out her movement as shapes and fragments of light followed her.

As the name suggests, ARTECHOUSE is a house of art and tech. The space provides a platform for groundbreaking and experimental artists to get their work in front of an audience. Co-founder Sandro Kereselidze says the exhibits are very much a “collaboration” between the space and the artists. Having three locations in the United States, “Lucid Motion” by Daito Manabe x Rhizomatiks Research is the latest exhibit here in DC.      

Manabe is a Japanese designer, programmer and DJ. Launching his company, Rhizomatiks Research in 2006, Manabe now serves as co-director. Similar to the mission statement of ARTECHOUSE, Rhizomatiks attempts to push the boundaries art through his use of technology. This is Manabe’s first solo exhibition in the U.S.

In addition to the main room and its looping video projection, the exhibit featured two others offering authentic interactive experiences. To my right, a thick black curtain exposed a space that featured a large screen showing what appeared to be groupings of glowing, colorful shapes and black lines. As I moved, the configuration moved with me, creating a vaguely human figure on the screen. Despite mirroring my movements, the shapes and lines were still tied to the beat of the music from the main room. 

To my left offered four more screens for audience interaction. All were similar experiences of lines and shapes, blurring into multi-chromatic colored figures, 3-D depth cameras capturing movement and depicting an alternate world. 

Manabe also made use of Augmented reality, or AR, taking computer-generated images and bringing them into the real world. While games like Pokemon Go has made use of this technology used, I had never considered that it could be used to create art.     

My favorite part of the exhibit came when I was handed an iPad in a room with objects sitting atop black tables. A dancer brought to life by AR twirled around the keys of a soundboard, stepping on the keys and creating sound.

Some of the objects were 3D printed specially for the dancer’s movement. Black posters hung on the wall – and when exposed to the iPad, the silhouette of the dancer appeared. She was connected to white lines like a marionette doll, fading in and out, while the lines continued to move. 

The exhibit isn’t the only part of ARTECHOUSE to explore augmented reality. Its bar is the first in the United States to feature this technology. Drinks and cocktails at the bar are served with an image on a coaster or sometimes on the food. With the ARTECHOUSE app, the audience can then scan that image and interact with it. In addition to using AR, the bar also themes its drinks based on the current exhibit. For Manabe’s work, Japanese ingredients were used and a human figure inspired by the silhouette was chosen for the glass.

Manabe’s work was unlike any art exhibit I had experienced before. It shows the future of what dance and art can be in a space like this. The blend of technology and creativity produces an experience that is both entertaining and interactive for audiences of all ages.

“Lucid Motion” runs through December 1. Tickets range from $8-$20. For more information on the gallery or the exhibit, visit here.

ARTECHOUSE: 1238 Maryland Ave SW, DC; www.dc.artechouse.com